Imagine being a 12-year-old footballer and having Lionel Messi tell you you’re a prodigy, or a youth tennis player getting singled out by Serena Williams.

In bowls, that GOAT [Greatest of All Time] is widely considered to be five-time Commonwealth Games champion David Bryant, who looked at a young Laura Holden and told her: “You’ve got that natural ability. You just picked up a bowl and it just kind of happened.”

Bryant, born and bred in Clevedon, passed away in 2020. Now Bristolian Holden, who turns 30 on 4 June, is hoping to carry on her talent-spotter’s legacy when she represents England at the European Championships this July.

“I was absolutely thrilled to make the squad,” said Holden, who plays and trains, like Bryant did, at Clevedon Bowling Club.

It was her grandparents, Janet and Denis, who first took Holden along. He turns 90 this year and can’t get to as many matches as he used to, but Holden’s mum, Debs, now knows the game “inside out”, enough that she’ll comfortably debrief with her daughter after a game.

The support means the world to Holden.

“I couldn’t wait to tell everyone,” said Holden, speaking ahead of Bowls’ Big Weekend on May 27-29. “We had to keep it quiet for a bit, but they were just thrilled. They’re always just so happy when things like that come up and I’m part of it. They’re just really, really proud.

“I put a lot of effort into playing and it’s nice for them to see me doing well and getting selected for these kinds of things.”

Holden will join clubmate and 2021 Bowler of the Year Stef Branfield at the continental showdown in Ayr, Scotland, with England looking to secure their first team title since 2015.

“It’s a great, great group of people,” said Holden, whose women’s squad also includes Devon’s Emma Cooper, Oxfordshire’s Lorraine Kuhler and Lincolnshire’s Ruby Hill.

“Obviously it’s a bit difficult when we’re all across the country, but we’ve played together before and I think as a squad we can do really well, we just need to get our heads down, focus and really work as a team, but I think we’ve got a really good chance of bringing home medals.”

She’s also secured tickets to go root on the nation’s senior squad at their home Commonwealth Games this summer, with Birmingham 2022 competition taking place at national bowls epicentre Leamington Spa.

“The team is outstanding,” she said. “I think they’re going to do brilliantly, and I think being on a home green at Leamington, I think they’ll do really, really well, and I look forward to going to watch them.”

Holden chose bowls after trying a number of other sports. At first, thinking she’d be the target of jokes from classmates, the 15-year-old decided not to tell anyone what she did outside school.

Then someone saw her in a newspaper.

“And nothing happened!” she remembered. “It was nice actually. That’s probably a regret of mine, not telling anyone. Now I wish I did because I played a lot, we were winning things at club level. You should be proud of things like that.”

These days, Holden is more than happy to talk bowls—and her own ultimate ambition.

“A Commonwealth Games, that’s everyone’s goal, to get to that level,” she added. “I feel like I'm sort of stepping up lately. I’ve just been trying to persevere.”

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